Editor’s Note: Carlin Hertz will write a series of articles, titled “The Offseason,” outlining each position in football. He will talk about training techniques in an effort to help improve youth players at their respected positions.
Up first, Wide Receivers.
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With offenses now geared around the spreading the field and having multiple wide receivers on the field, the wide receiver position has quickly become the most sought after position in football. Coaches that love to throw the football want players that can catch the ball and make plays after catches. Today, coaches are looking for certain types of wide receiver molds—on the outside which is the X and Z position (Diagram 1), coaches tend to look for players that are tall and physical. The X and Z must be able to fight off jams from cornerbacks and be able to catch the deep ball.
The slot position F and Y are generally smaller and quick. These are the players that catch the quick screens- Bubble, Jail Break, and Key and can turn a five yard catch into a touchdown. Generally speaking, the slot guys will need to run a 4.4 or faster.
Before you can even think about playing anyone of these four positions on the field, there are a few things players should be doing in the offseason to prepare for the summer and fall.
“Catching the Rock”
If you can’t catch the ball, chances are, you won’t see the football field. Coaches will not invest time in players that cannot secure the football. If you are a player that is having a hard time catching the ball, here are some things that you can do.
Tennis Ball Drill
If your parents can afford a Lobster machine which is about $800, then you are very lucky. The Lobster machine shoots tennis balls at you so that you can work on catching the ball. Tennis balls are soft and bouncy and it forces you to have soft hands, or you will drop them every time. If you cannot afford a Lobster machine (like many Americans), then simply having your dad, brother, cousin, or a fellow wide receivers toss tennis balls at you will help. Here is the drill:
Catch 100 tennis balls with two hands, and then catch 100 tennis balls with your right and left hand.
This drill works wonders. My 12-year old son, who is converting to linebacker and fullback, could not catch the ball consistently. I started this drill with him and his hands are like glue now. He catches everything that is thrown at him. The tennis ball drill is great for hand-eye coordination as you have to focus on a much smaller object.
Lying Down Toss Drill
While attending Villanova camp with my son, I saw the receivers coach do this drill for the players. You lie down on your back and have a partner stand over you and gently drop the football to you. The player that is on the ground starts with his arms slightly bent, and as the ball is coming down, he extends his arms and catches the ball. This drill forces the player to learn how to catch the ball with his hands and not his body. Wide receivers should never catch the ball with their body. That is a sin and that player can usually find himself on the bench.
There are some coaches, me being one of them, that stress the essential of blocking. If a wide receiver doesn’t block or takes plays off, then chances are, he won’t play. There is one drill that I really love and saw the coaches from Tennessee do.
Line a folding chair up about 10 yards from the receiver. On the snap of the ball, the receiver sprints to the chair as if he is going to block him. To be an effective blocker, the player should not lunge at the defender or break down and come to a halt.
This will allow the defender to beat you off the block and make the tackle. As the receiver is coming to the chair, he should begin to shimmy about 3-4 yards before the chair. This is called the cushion zone. Shimmy is when the players take short choppy steps while moving forward. This allows him to stay in front of the defender. Once he gets the chair, he is to get in a sit position like he would if he was sitting down in the chair, extend his arms and pick the chair up. This works on a good base for the wide receiver and allows him to be low on the block and move his feet.
Really simple here. Line up cones about five yards apart from each other. The receiver starts in a good stance––knee slightly bent, arms up near the chest, inside leg up (leg closest to the ball). As he comes out of the stance he sprints to the first cone, chops his feet, and then sprints to the next cone. As a receiver, you want to avoid any false steps. Usually a good 20 yards for this drill is acceptable. Next, he will go back to the starting point, sprint to the cone and do a full circle around each cone with his feet (see diagram 2).
These are just some of the basic drills, but doing these drills 3-4 times a week will greatly improve your skill set as a wide receiver. Good luck.
Photo (Heads Up Youth Football Camp in Virginia): H. Darr Beiser/USA Today Sports